As Air Became This Number

Hanna Husberg & Agata Marzecova / Stockholm, Sweden & Tallinn, Estonia — Okt 20, 2019

Concept Text:

Our intervention combines elements of artistic research, scientific expertise and critical theory to explore the role of digital technologies in changing imaginaries of urban air, and to reflect upon how these may be contributing to new social ordering.

As air pollution is increasingly recognised as one of the world’s largest environmental health risks, bygone sensing technologies, such as the iconic canary in the coal mine, have been replaced by seemingly ‘less cruel’ and more ‘objective’ automated real-time measurements and technologies. Informed by accounts of embodied experiences of living in the toxic air of Beijing—notoriously known for its pervasive fine particulate pollution—our project highlights how the adoption of easily digitisable indexes of airborne particulate matter such as PM2.5 and the Air Quality Index (AQI) has opened up for a datafied conceptualisation of urban air, thus contributing to a new perceptual regime in which urban air is reimagined as a site of ‘care and calculation’ managed through data.

Further, it outlines the conflicting politics of the continuous, near real-time pollution data as they, on the one hand, give visibility to the toxic particulates—allowing certain citizens to individually self-care by managing their personal risks and exposures—while on the other hand, they are consistent with a broader shift towards algorithmic regulation and environmental distribution of control and governance that largely bypass any aspiration towards collective care.

Hanna Husberg & Agata Marzecova

As the air became this number is part of »Towards atmospheric care«, an interdisciplinary project developed between Hanna Husberg, visual artist and researcher, and Agata Marzecova, researcher in ecology, photography & new media. Highlighting how science, technology and infrastructures allow for apprehending and sensing the environment in new ways, the project questions the potential of art-science-technology to reimagine other-than-neoliberal and pre-emptive technoecologies of air.

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